Monday 21 December 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2

The compelling question at the heart of the series has always been how Katniss Everdeen can retain her agency, her freedom, her ability to make choices about her own life, in the midst of all the propaganda, maneuvering, gaming and political strategising she finds herself caught up in. It started with Katniss, the tribute for District 12, taking the place of her sister to protect her, caught in the brutal games of the capital game makers, who are turning the death of children into a spectacle for an audience justifying its blood lust with the idea that the symbolic sacrifice is necessary for peace. Surviving this trauma only led to her story being reframed and retold into something less potentially dangerous and inciting, a teenage romance to distract from the fact that hers was a political act, the first spark of a revolution that would sweep all of the districts. There has always been an odd sort of parallel between how the Peeta-Katniss-Gale triangle works within the political framework of the show as a tool to distract from the important story, the political story, and the way that same triangle, on a meta-level, distracts from the true accomplishment of Hunger Games as a piece of art with an intent. Mockingjay, Part 2 continues this thread - Katniss now has to utilise her previous insights into how she is being used for other people's agendas to analyse what President Coin's intentions are. 
Katniss, as a person, is struggling with the burden of being a symbol, because being perceived as such means that she, on the one hand, carries the hope of too many individuals, and on the other, that who she is has to be simplified and condensed down to a version of her that is politically useful. This version fails to truly capture her, and worse than that, always threatens to become a cage that actually limits her ability to make choices and decisions. Katniss the figurehead of a revolution that is more and more no longer her revolution (because the strategies being discussed violate her idea of ethics and fairness, but for Coin, and more worryingly, Gale, the ends justify the means) is limited, and ultimately endangered, by her status, because part of the power that she holds threatens the future of President Coin's aspirations, who lacks Katniss' natural ability to win over the masses and carry their favour. 
The twist in all of this is that the moment Katniss goes off on her own, to get rid of all these new chains and prove to herself that she still can make choices for herself, she is still playing into exactly what is expected of her. Even in going off on her own mission to assassinate Snow, and therefore combine ending the conflict with her own personal revenge against a man who has caused her so much pain, she is ultimately fulfilling the plan of a game master. She is still a pawn - her attempts to penetrate the fortress of the capital is turned into pure trench warfare, another version of the arena she has been thrown into twice, a brutalist urban landscape turned into deadly obstacle course (one of the ironic twists of the series, that all of it is almost meant for video games, but the premise of them would be too morally atrocious to realise). Her companions, bounded to her by different threads of loyalty, die for her, one by one, and the only thing that gives them dignity in death is the belief that Katniss is doing all of this for the right reasons. This very thought is what is eating away at Katniss, it twists and turns all of her personal relationships - and in one of the more brilliant moves, Johanna Mason (an incredible performance by Jena Malone again, in a series that at its best relies on female faces for its most effective storytelling), a version of Katniss without people who care about her, mirrors what may happen to her in the future. 
This is perhaps one of the shortcomings of the series, which is otherwise eloquent and brutal in its dissemination of power, of how revolutions end up eating their own children - that Katniss' motives are always pure. She is more compelling as a heroine who is so tired and exhausted by her role that, once she has accomplished her true mission at the end of the film (not just ending Snow, which she leaves to the masses, but ending the circle of violence the only way she knows how to, by killing), she is about to take a pill that will end her own life. That the series goes from this to the epilogue, in which Katniss receives her peaceful future, her family, the time and place to try and come to terms with all the trauma she has endured, has always been the most difficult thing to swallow. In a way, once she has finished her role as a figurehead, she is free to become a person, an individual again, but in a different way, her past trauma has limited her ability to choose freely, and her main connection to Peeta is the fact that they have endured a similar thing, and survived it together. 

2015, directed by Francis Lawrence, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Julienne Moore, Patina Miller, Woody Harrelson, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Elizabeth Banks, Jena Malone, Mahershala Ali, Paula Malcolmson, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Natalie Dormer, Michelle Forbes. 

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